The one night stand may not have been born in the 60s, but it was granted acceptance and serial permanence. … the Holy Father saw how a general lowering of overall morality would be the result of such self-centeredness.
Humanae Vitae and I came into the world on the same day, July 25th. In the summer of 1968, Pope Paul VI finally released his sanctioned statements promoting the intimate unity of the family and, consequently, condemning any use of artificial birth control. No other magisterial document, and no subsequent ecclesial fallout, had ever received as much attention on the world’s stage than this moment. In comparison to the sluice gates opened here, the flood brought on by Athanasius and Arius seemed barely a trickle! From 1968 on, the divisions in the Church would be nightly news fodder, and Catholics would henceforth be recognized, sadly, not by our love for one another, but as “conservative” or “liberal.” To many, we were becoming like any other political organization, centered not on the true and the holy, but on popularity and convenience.
Through prayer, study, and dialogue with many others, Pope Paul VI refused to go along with the Majority Commission’s recommendation that the Church follow other Christian groups in the 20th century and overturn the long-standing opposition to the indignities of artificial birth control. Two American theologians, Fr. John Ford, S.J. and Dr. Germain Grisez, were particularly pivotal in strengthening Paul VI’s resolve not to capitulate to the times—proving, once again, how the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is really the only place where we can be safe from the sins and seductions of our times. Quickly, after the release of Humanae Vitae, the prayerful leader of the Jesuits during those tumultuous years, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, reminded all of us sons of Ignatius that “A teaching, such as the one Pope Paul VI presents, merits assent, not simply because of the reasons he offers, but also—and above all—because of the charism which enables him to present it. Guided by the authentic word of the Pope—a word that need not be infallible to be highly respected—every Jesuit owes it to himself, by reason of his vocation, to do everything possible to penetrate, and to help others penetrate, into the thought which may not have been his own previously; however, as he goes beyond the evidence available to him personally, he finds, or will find, a solid foundation for it.” (This letter is available on line at: http://frvanhove.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/letter-of-father-general-pedro-arrupe-on-humanae-vitae-1968/) A young Jesuit scholastic preparing for priestly ordination the following year, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), must have been proud to read his General defend love so powerfully! And what was this “solid foundation” to which Arrupe refers? Father General goes on to argue that Humanae Vitae is ultimately rooted in the dignity of the human person and the Father’s glory, when we all think and act in accord with our nature, his perfect (and perfecting) will.
At the end of his watershed document, Pope Paul VI turns from the anthropological and theological argument against artificial birth control to more utilitarian factors, arguing that because of the contraceptive mentality this 20th century inaugurated, four things would inevitably become true. The first is that widespread contraception would result in an increase in marital infidelity. He presciently saw that once the marital act became, well, no longer “marital,” its fittingness was no longer determined by one’s state in life, but by individual performance and effectiveness. An action that was once reserved for the office of marriage was reduced now to the fancy of friends (however fleeting and whimsical that “friendship” might be). The one night stand may not have been born in the 60s, but it was granted acceptance and serial permanence. Second, the Holy Father saw how a general lowering of overall morality would be the result of such self-centeredness. Do we need to look any further than prime time television for evidence of a society longing for intimacy, but having no real understanding of what could be meant by nuptial union and a type of human eros that elevates lovers to heaven? Thirdly, Pope Paul argued, if contraception took hold of a society, women in particular would suffer. Why so? He wrote: “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection” (Humanae Vitae §17). The internet has ushered in a multi-billion dollar porn industry into the living rooms and the office: the convenience of reducing another to a two-dimensional screen, where one’s libido seeks no demands, no vulnerability, no relationship, no commitment. Here, women, especially, have become simply apparatuses for fallen men’s cravings. Finally, the warning went out against governments who would exploit the supposed expediency and effectiveness of forced contraceptives and sterilizations so as to manipulate a people into subservience, and to ensure the productivity of the state over the primacy of the family.
So, in many ways it seems fitting that my first editorial as editor of HPR celebrates the vision of the human person, evidenced throughout Humane Vitae. My parents were committed Catholics, open to life. The fact that I was born on the anniversary of this pivotal encyclical has always tickled me; the fact that I have been asked to write my first editorial during this month, terrifies me. An editorial is an opportunity for one person to make his or her views known on a topic of choice. There are no real directives apart from what editors think important enough for their readers to ponder.
Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., has been providing that service to readers of these pages (now, screens) for over 40 years and, to be candid, I find being his successor a bit intimidating. Fr. Baker was trained in the best of the Jesuit way, and has served God and his people faithfully and intelligently his entire Jesuit and priestly life. Yet, to most of us, he will always be the last page of Homiletic and Pastoral Review: his smiling face next to his wise and, oftentimes, witty words. He traveled and reported on Church synods, and events across the globe, bringing his perspective to many people for many years. We thank you, Fr. Baker. But as a good and faithful priest, he, more than any of us, realizes that while he may have been to generations the last page, he never intended to be the last word. And so, with the grace of God, we carry on.